Group of athletes running on a track

National body launches funding campaign ahead of Deaflympics anniversary

With the 2024 Paris Olympics on the horizon, a new campaign has called on the government to end discrimination against elite deaf athletes. 

In the wake of Team GB’s success at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Boris Johnson’s government pledged a £232m investment to support GB and Northern Irish athletes’ path to Paris. 

Now UK Deaf Sport, the national governing body for deaf sport in the UK, has launched the Fair Play for Deaf Athletes campaign, lobbying the government to invest £3m over four years. 

Joanne Cholerton, Chief Executive of UK Deaf Sport said: “Deafness is the only disability the Government does not support at the elite sport level. 

“Being deaf should not be a barrier to reaching your potential – we think this is profoundly unfair and that’s why we’re calling on the Government to redress this funding anomaly.”

A sizable £612m is allocated over four years to Olympic and Paralympic sport through UK Sport, but current government policy prevents deaf athletes from accessing this. 

Deaf athletes can only compete at the Paralympics if they have another eligible’ Paralympic disability, hence the formation of the Deaflympics, which will turn 100 next year. 

While under a different name – the original edition known as the International Silent Games – the Deaflympics are organised and run exclusively by members of the deaf community.

Piers Martin, Chair of UK Deaf Sport said: “It is not well-known that the Deaflympics is a separate event to the Paralympics. 

“But that is simply not a valid excuse for the government to continue to exclude deaf athletes. Modern society no longer accepts discrimination at this level.”

The proposed investment would make up just 0.5% of the current UK Sport budget, to create talent and performance pathways mirroring those already in place for both Olympic formats. 

Nathan Young, deaf swimmer and Deaflympian, said the potential of GB deaf athletes was limited because of having to constantly prioritise fundraising over training. 

He said: “I would guess 99% of our country has never heard of the Deaflympics. 

“Deaf Athletes for years have missed out and been treated like a fallen branch, left on the ground open to the elements.” 

Nathan finished fourth at the 2023 World Deaf Swimming Championships, behind three medallists who represented countries who do have government funding. 

He added: “The mental impact of knowing that these athletes are funded and supported, and most importantly that their country treats them fairly and equally, is irreversible”.

Piers Martin added: “Without equitable support for elite deaf athletes, in the same way as their Paralympic peers, there can be no role models for young deaf people. 

“It is no surprise that activity levels amongst the 12 million strong deaf community are some of the worst across our society.” 

Jodie Ounsley, Honorary President of UK Deaf Sport and Winger for Exeter Chiefs, admitted that growing up, she missed not having deaf athletes to look up to.

We’ve launched this campaign to ensure every deaf person can fulfil their full potential in sport and give the next generation of deaf children inspiring role models.” 

Exeter Chiefs’ and UK Deaf Sport Honorary President, Jodie Ounsley, explained the need for increased government funding in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

Adam Blaze, Chief Executive of Activity Alliance, a charity championing disability inclusion in sport, pledged his support to the new campaign UK Deaf Sport have embarked on.

He said: “A person’s impairment should not affect whether they receive financial support. We need to change attitudes towards disabled people from elite to grassroot level. 

“A commitment to funding talented D/deaf athletes and a DeaflympicsGB Team would be a hugely positive step in making sport and physical activity fairer across our country.”

UK Deaf Sport are optimistic government funding for elite deaf sport will have a knock-on effect in the wider community, encouraging more deaf people to participate in sport at all levels. 

Estimates from the Office for National Statistics currently put the number of D/deaf people in England at over 10 million, with almost a quarter of a million of those people living in London.

The momentum improving pathways to participation for the deaf community has gained ought not to relent, given research still shows a mere 47% deaf adults are active.

The next Deaflympics will take place in Tokyo in 2025. 

Details on how to support the campaign can be found on the UK Deaf Sport website:

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